If you want to know why is it the so-called "experts" are often wrong when picking the results of football games, the Detroit Lions' 7-3 win over the Green Bay Packers is a textbook example of how the game differs from the expectations.
Aaron Rodgers, the standout quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, suffered a concussion after being hit hard on back-to-back plays, and he was taken out of the game. Without Rodgers, the Packers high-powered passing attack could not repeat its success with Matt Flynn as the new starter.
You cannot understate this loss and its effect upon the playoff picture for Green Bay. You just can't. It can break their season like rejection breaks a person's heart. It is that severe.
We all know that there are six playoff spots from each conference in the NFL. Each conference has four divisions, so the division winners automatically get a playoff berth and a minimum of one playoff game at home.
The other two spots are given to the next best two teams and are called wild-card spots. Those spots do not get guaranteed homefield advantage and are second-place (and on the rare occasion, a third place team from the same division as the other wild-card team) teams.
Now, the division the Packers are in is the NFC North. The NFC North hosts the Minnesota Vikings, the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.
The Bears are right now 9-4, the Packers are 8-5, the Vikings are 5-8 and the Lions are 3-10. With three games remaining, the Packers have to hope the Bears lose and they win to regain the division lead and a playoff spot.
Theoretically, they could get a playoff spot in the form of a wild card, but the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFC East are tied with a 9-4 record, and the New Orleans Saints are in second place in the NFC South with a 10-3 record.
To sum it up, if playoffs started today, the Packers would watch the Super Bowl at home instead of trying to get there. The Lions loss put them behind the Bears by an entire game, and now the Packers are going to have to face the New England Patriots in Foxboro, and then two home games against the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears.
The three teams they have left have a combined record of 29-10, and all either lead their division or are tied for first place in their division. Also, the Bears are a division rival for the Packers, so that game has even more merit. They will have to knock the king off his perch in order to steal his throne from him.
The New Orleans Saints don't have it easy. They face the Baltimore Ravens, their own division leader, the Atlanta Falcons, and third division rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The combined records for those teams are 28-11.
However, the Saints are still two games above the Packers, and I believe they'll beat at least one team to secure a wild-card spot, whereas the Packers will have more trouble winning the last three games.
The Giants and Eagles play each other, but I stand firm to the idea that they'll both make the playoffs with one taking a wild-card spot. The Packers however, in my eyes, have to regain the division lead. Now, I'm not saying that the Packers will not be eligible for a wild-card slot; I just do not believe they will get it.
The playoff picture as I see it will be some team from the NFC West (whoever is lucky enough to win the division), the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles as the division winner and wild-card for the NFC East, and the Atlanta Falcons winning the NFC South and the Saints getting the second wild-card slot.
The Bears look to win the NFC North because they have an entire game lead over the Packers, and also, (this is where the Detroit game dealt the biggest blow to Green Bay), the Bears have a 4-0 record in the division. The Packers have a 3-2 record within the division.
Why is the division record so important? Because, in case of a tie record between two teams, the team that has more wins within its division is concluded to be the best team in the division. The Detroit Lions not only gave the Packers a loss, they gave them a division loss they could not afford.
The Bears will play the Minnesota Vikings this coming Sunday, but the Vikings are in such a poor state that they may start a quarterback who was drafted as a wide receiver this past April in the sixth round of the draft.
A rookie quarterback going against the giant Grizzly? I'm sorry if I don't choose to pick the Vikings to win that game. The Bears record is very likely to go to 5-0 within the division, and even if the Packers win against the Bears in week 17, the Bears will have a 5-1 record that is greater than the Packer 4-2 record.
In a case of a tie, the Bears will win the division and since the two wild-card spots have been filled according to my predictions, the Packers will miss playoffs.
How can the Packers still make playoffs? Well, they need the Bears to lose out to finish 9-7 or at least two games to be 10-6. Then, the Packers need to win out to finish 11-5 over the Patriots, the Giants, and the Bears.
Sounds simple, but the Packers are unsure if Aaron Rodgers can play the Patriots in Foxboro this Sunday against the red-hot Patriots. He did not practice yesterday, and Matt Flynn is being prepared to start.
Matt Flynn is a seventh-round draft choice from LSU in the 2008 draft. He was voted offensive MVP in the BCS Championship game for the 2007 LSU Tigers when he threw four touchdowns against the Ohio State Buckeyes, but has only thrown 46 passes in his professional career.
He led the Packers to a field goal against the Lions, but in the final minutes of the game, he threw an interception that sealed the win for the Detroit Lions. This is the man that is expected to start for the Packers against the Patriots.
Also, the last time the Patriots lost a regular season game in Foxboro was November 30, 2008 when Matt Cassel was the quarterback because Tom Brady had torn his ACL in Week 1. The last time Tom Brady lost a game at Foxboro was November 12, 2006.
George Bush was still President of the United States when Tom Brady last lost at home in the regular season. I was 17 years old; I couldn't smoke a cigarette then.
Let's assume Rodgers does not go under center this Sunday, and Matt Flynn does. The Packers will likely need two giant upsets on the same day. They'll need Joe Webb to quarterback the Vikings past the Bears, and Matt Flynn to beat the Patriots in their house.
Why are the Packers in this situation? Because they lost to Detroit. If they had beaten Detroit, they are tied with the Bears for first-place with a 9-4 record, and even if the Bears beat the Vikings, the Packers can beat the Bears in week 17 for control of the NFC North as long as they manage to go 1-1 against the Patriots and Giants.
Every game counts, but the Lions game just counted a whole lot more in the long run.